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Emily Young’s angels

December 7, 2008

angel-emily-young

Angel by Emily Young

London was in the middle of a heat wave.  The familiar streets of Kensington where I’d spent childhood vacations were strangely Mediterranean in feel, Holland Park was tropical.
It would have been a beautiful time except my mother was dying in a hospice in St. John’s Wood.

I was staying with my aunt and uncle and would travel by tube every day from the High Street to St. John and Elizabeth’s to visit mom. She felt she was there for respite care and would soon be returning to her flat and beloved piano. During my visits, we would chat and read together and reminisce a bit. The room was warm but cozy and light. I’d leave in the early evening and return the next afternoon.

In the mornings while she was receiving care, I would be free to wander my old haunts in the neighborhood. One day when I looked down from my aunt and uncle’s fifth floor flat, I saw that there was a sculpture garden in the back of Leighton house.  That morning, I met for the first time, Emily Young’s angels. And I recognized them from deep in my soul.

For me, angels have never been those sappy fat little girls and and naked baby boys. They were always vast, fiery and dangerous in their huge intensity. My angels don’t fit on a head of a pin, they spread over galaxies. And dance.

Walking among Emily’s giant winged angel heads I felt that deep kinship and returning to oneself that great art always catalyzes.  The gardens were deserted, sheltered, holy with presence. I felt enfolded and comforted and strengthened for the impossible task of letting my beloved mother go. No, letting her go was easy compared to seeing her in the hospice and knowing she would never come home again.

Every day during my mother’s last week on earth, I visited those angels and rested in  their large presence. Looking closely at the Purbeck marble used for some of the heads, I found endless little worlds of fossilized creatures, like filigree on those great winged heads.

I don’t remember now, which came first, the call that my mother had died, or looking down from my aunt’s apartment to see bare grass dotted with yellow postage stamp squares where the angel garden had once been.  But these two losses will be forever linked in my memory. As well as gratitude for being carried on those stone wings during that  hot summer in London.

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